April 9th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

Recap: Language creator David Peterson on 'The Next List'

For linguist David Peterson, inventing a new language is “like creation itself.”

Peterson is the inventor of the Dothraki language, spoken in the HBO hit series, “Game of Thrones.” (Disclosure: HBO shares a parent company with CNN). And just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s languages infused “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogies with an authenticity rarely seen in fantasy fiction, “Game of Thrones” writers and executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff say Peterson’s Dothraki brings a depth to their savage warrior culture beyond that found even in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Martin’s epic book series is the very foundation of the Dothraki language. Peterson began with the 30 or so words and phrases Martin created for the books, using them as the basis of how the language should look and sound. He also explored what it meant to be Dothraki. “Who are these people?” he asked. “Where do they live? What kind of environment are they in?” He then imagined what the language might have looked 1,000 years before the action in the books and series. According to Peterson, slowly evolving it over the centuries “helps to make the language more authentic,” filling in “the nooks and crannies, the various irregularities” of natural languages like English.

Currently, the Dothraki vocabulary tops out at about 3,400 words - about twice that of Klingon, which was created for the “Star Trek” movies, and Navi, featured in James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Peterson plans to continue expanding it. But this language creator – or con-langer – isn’t stopping there. Weiss and Benioff point out that there are several other languages in the world of “Game of Thrones,” and they hope David will create those for them as well. Meantime, he’s already at work on a new project with the Syfy Network. As Peterson describes it, “Defiance” features “several different alien species, who speak several different alien languages, that have come to earth and are now intermixing with American English speakers.”

Peterson, however, expects to spend the next several years answering questions about Dothraki. “There’s such a large fan base for George R.R. Martin’s works,” he explains. And that suits him just fine. Admitting he’s already living a con-langer’s dream, Peterson’s goals for the future are modest. “Ideally, I’d love to be working on more language projects and still have a wonderfully small life with my cat and my wife.”

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  1. Learn a language with Martha

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    May 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
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    April 16, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  3. MACH STONE

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    April 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • Guilherme

      that he will be filming this Saturday and from the depciistron of his costume, it sounds like he might be a wilding. Perhaps this will be the scene where we first meet Osha? We know filming of Winterfell scenes are set to begin soon and it sounds like Saturday may be the first.Lastly, about the filming of the tournament has surfaced. You’ll have to click the link to read it as it contains some small spoilers. Also of note, I’ve heard that the tourney scenes were directed by Brian Kirk.Tags: , | By on August 31, 2010Filed Under: One of the newest cast members, Joe Dempsie, was recently interviewed by the Liverpool Echo. In he talks quite a bit about Game of Thrones, in addition to Skins and his ties to Liverpool. Here is an excerpt:Joe, who still has family living in Crosby and south Liverpool, admitted to being nervous.a0He said: “The fans are rabid waiting for this and they know exactly how they want their characters to look.a0Gendry is described as being tall and muscled, with thick black hair. I am hoping I can live up to two of those because I am only 5ft 8in!a0I am not really a gym person, but this has certainly got me going more often.”Joe … will also star with The Wire’s Aiden Gilen and 300’s Lena Heady.a0He said: “I hope to learn a lot from them, not only in acting terms but in how to act off camera.a0I am also looking forward to being part of something which is already so popular and so many people love.”Also, The Liverpool Echo reporter, Gary Stewart, is a fan of the books and a WiC reader. He contacted me with some additional info that he wasn’t able to put into his article, but that might be of interest to Game of Thrones fans.Joe seemed really nice but admitted he hadn’t read the books. He said he just started reading AGOT but said fantasy wasn’t really his thing (even though he’d been in Merlin).Having said that he is looking forward to the series as HBO don’t make bad TV.He said he originally went for the role of Jon Snow last year but didn’t get it and was asked back to try out for Gendry.He said his audition for the role was the scene were he’s talking to Arya about getting rid of dead wood (Hot Pie I think?) and he described Gendry as ‘not sophisticated but also not stupid’.He got his scripts in mid-August and he only has scripts were he has lines.He’s due to start filming in mid September.He also said he has previously met Lena Headey when he spent a month in LA last year and said she and her husband were really nice to him.Winter Is Coming: A big thank you to Gary for providing us with the additional info! Some good stuff and another little piece of the filming puzzle. It’s also nice to see some of the new cast members getting some press. Dempsie sounds like he’s got a good idea of the character, despite not having read the books yet. I’d be interested to hear what he thinks of the book, if he finishes it, because I’ve known lots of people who aren’t necessarily into fantasy that still fall in love with the series.Tags: , , | By on August 29, 2010Filed Under: , , Let’s take a quick trip ’round the web for some Game of Thrones news and notes, shall we?To start with here is a with Alfie Allen over at ITN. Alfie talks briefly about his role on Thrones and reveals that he has to “do an accent” for the role. At first, I figured he was just referring to the RP affectation that all the noble characters are said to be adopting, however when the interviewer asked for more details Allen said he couldn’t talk about it. So maybe he is doing a slightly different accent than the rest of the nobles to indicate he is from the Iron Islands?Second is with Dothraki creator David J. Peterson over at the GeekDad blog on Wired.com. Peterson talks about many familiar topics, such as his inspiration for the language, his process of creation and how he was selected by HBO. He does however gives us a new Dothraki phrase and provides this tidbit about his involvement with the on-going filming:As for the actors, they get a ton of material (including phonetic pronunciation guides and .mp3’s of me speaking all the lines), and are in good hands on set (I’ve been in communication with the dialogue coach there, Brendan Gunn, who’s done a lot of great work in the past). I’d love to be on set, but I haven’t found the time to jaunt on over to Belfast just yet… I’d love to see Malta, though.Next up is over at Big Think that talks about the hype surrounding Game of Thrones and takes a look “inside the relationship between modern fan culture and entertainment marketing.” The article is a good read and contains some interesting analysis of not only the show’s potential but also the books themselves and the long wait for A Dance with Dragons.Lastly, for those who may have missed it earlier in the week, Joseph Campo is back with of Get Joe on the Show. In this week’s episode, Joe tells us that his next video will be the audition itself and gives us a little taste of what’s to come. He also manages to work in a WiC mention!

      April 30, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
  4. Qunchuy

    I don't subscribe to HBO, so I know very little of Dothraki besides what I read in articles such as this. I do, however, speak Klingon, and I want to provide a correction. While the originally published Klingon lexicon had something like two thousand words, actually counting the size of the vocabulary is not straightforward. It's easy for Klingon verbs to do multiple duty by adding suffixes. For example, {pum} "fall" can take the causative suffix {-moH} to yield {pummoH} "knock down" or "push over". Using the augmentative and diminutive noun suffixes {-'a'} and {-Hom} can turn a {quS} "chair" into a {quS'a'} "throne" (or "couch", depending on context), or a {Du'} "farm" into a {Du'Hom} "garden". Early attempts at a comprehensive vocabulary list regularly exceeded three thousand useful words, even in the late 1980s before the lexicon was expanded by Klingon's creator Marc Okrand in books such as "Klingon for the Galactic Traveler", and in the recently-released "TalkNow: Learn Klingon!" CD-ROM. I estimate the Klingon vocabulary to be well over five thousand basic words today, with very few of those words being useful only in a Star Trek context (e.g. {jolvoy'} "transporter ionizer unit").

    April 14, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply

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